DOE mulls plutonium disposition

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Government: Department is considering using TA-55 for pit disassembly

By John Severance

The Department of Energy held a scoping meeting last week at Cities of Gold Casino to consider additional alternatives for the pit disassembly and conversion capability as it pertains to surplus plutonium disposition (SPD).

The scoping period began with the issuance of the amended Notice of Intent on Jan. 12 and the scoping ends March 12.

The Scope of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement will consider the following:
• Options to disassemble pits and convert plutonium metal to an oxide for disposition.
• Disposition of seven metric tons of additional pit plutonium.
• Disposition of six metric tons of non-pit plutonium.
• Irradiating Mixed Oxide (MXO) fuel in Tennessee Valley Authority reactors.

Sachiko McAlhany, the document manager for the DOE project, said the SPD Supplemental EIS will not reconsider decisions regarding disposition of surplus plutonium other than the decision to construct a stand-alone Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility (PDCF) or the evaluation of additional reactors for irradiation of MOX fuels.

The DOE is considering four sites for the PDCF. Three of them are at the Savannah River Site and the other is at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. DOE officials are considering the Plutonium Facility at TA-55.
McAlhany said the preferred alternative for pit disassembly and the conversion of surplus plutonium to feed the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility, is to use some combination of facilities.

“We would use TA-55 at LANL and K-Area, H-Canyon and MFF at Savannah River Site, rather than to construct a new stand-alone facility,” McAlhany said. “This would likely require the installation of additional equipment and other modifications to some of these facilities.”

McAlhany also reiterated the following points in summation.
• DOE must disposition U.S. surplus weapons-usable plutonium in a safe, secure and environmentally sound manner.
• Plutonium must be in proliferation-resistant forms that can never again be readily used in nuclear weapons.
• The SPD Supplmental EIS will evaluate options for disposition of an additional seven metric tons of pit plutonium and six metric tons of non-pit plutonium.
• Public involvement is an important component in the EIS decision-making process.

The DOE is taking comments until March 12 and the easiest way is to send them by email to spdsupplementalaleis@saic.com.

While the DOE portion of the program took just more than 30 minutes, the same could not be said for the public comment period which lasted close to three hours.

Susan Gordon, director of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, said, “It is abundantly clear that the elimination of a costly stand-alone Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility (PDCF) is being done because the construction of the $5 billion MOX plant at the Savannah River Site is eating up the bulk of funds for plutonium disposition and a large percentage of DOE’s overall non-proliferation budget.

“What is being presented as a prudent decision to cut costs actually indicates that costs for the MOX program have spiraled out of control and are placing other more important parts of the DOE budget under stress.”